Thailand has long harboured dreams of becoming a high-end tourism
destination, and global marketing efforts in recent years have reflected
the tourism authorities’ keenness to attract a new breed of high-end
As the country looks to reopen its borders and talks of ‘travel
bubbles’ with selected countries in Asia Pacific go underway, the
Covid-19 crisis offers an opportunity to market the country as an
exclusive destination for big spenders seeking privacy and social
distancing in the post-pandemic era, Thailand Tourism Minister Phiphat
Ratchakitprakarn said in a recent interview with Bloomberg News.
The government wants to focus its post-pandemic strategy on
attracting high-end tourists from abroad to resort islands such as
Phuket, Samui, Phangan and Phi Phi, where they will be accommodated at
luxury properties for a minimum period of time before being able to move
A reboot of the tourism sector, said the minister, will enable
Thailand to pull away from its mass market roots and reduce its
traditional reliance on Chinese groups and backpackers, Bloomberg
Taming the mass market beast
But the minister’s proposal to revive travel recovery by prioritising
the high-end segment for Thailand, whose tourism foundation was built
on catering to diverse visitor market segments, is met with skepticism
across the sector.
Given the sheer size and diversity of Thailand’s tourism offerings,
it is untenable to many industry players that the destination’s
post-pandemic recovery could focus on any particular segment.
Bill Barnett, managing director at Phuket-based C9 Hotelworks, thinks
there is an “absolute disconnect” between Thailand’s public and private
sector regarding tourism at the moment. “Given there are between
500,000 to one million hotel rooms in the country, it makes no sense to
say the country only wants [wealthy] tourists,” he said.
“Thailand is not the Maldives, tourism here is a beast that must be
fed. A top-down approach is nice to talk about in theory but the reality
is that every hotel reopening in Thailand is now throwing down on rates
just to fund the payroll,” added Mr Barnett.
Jakub Piwowarski, general manager at Cosi Pattaya Wong Amat Beach,
added: “The reality is that the country and its infrastructure has
already options in place for both budget-economy and for the higher-end
luxury market. It would be unrealistic to expect that the budget-economy
market, in some places with tendencies towards mass tourism, would or
The idea of a reset, in his opinion, is “interesting but has probably little real merit”.
A true reset on tourism, said Chris Bailey of BTM Services, a
hospitality and tourism consultancy, will entail significant investment
by the Thai government, “not just a major repositioning communication to
the potential markets and customers around the world, but also
retraining Thai people to do different jobs”.
If such a major restructure happens, Mr Bailey expects that many of
the current jobs will cease to exist in the sector. But in the short to
mid term, it is unlikely that the government would be able to provide
the support, especially financial, needed for Thailand to make the
transition into a luxury destination, he added.
Furthermore, such a strategy will pit Thailand against countries
which have already successfully positioned themselves as luxury
destinations on the global travel map.
“If you look at international wish lists, consumers are already
looking at destinations that have an exclusive reputation such as
Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles and Caribbean Islands like St Lucia,”
noted Mr Bailey. “This will certainly favour smaller destinations in the
region and resorts in places like exclusive parts of Bali, Malaysia’s
east coast and the Philippines.”
Health is wealth
While the pandemic may have elevated travellers’ sense for
cleanliness and safety, what is clear is that demand for excellent value
proposition remains unaltered.
In view of Thailand’s success in containing the Covid-19 outbreak, Mr
Piwowarski believes the kingdom’s post-pandemic value proposition lies
in its medical support, health and safety, with its range of modern,
well-equipped medical infrastructure and highly trained professionals,
and a established healthcare system that is ranked among the world’s
He added: “I don't think that we should focus on a certain traveller
market based on their wallets, but rather take the opportunity to
showcase the advantages that Thailand has over other destinations,
especially on the health and safety part, and to attract a broader and
more diverse range of travellers.”
As the Thai travel and hospitality sectors gradually resume business,
Mr Bailey also cautioned against an over-emphasis on safety and
cleanliness at the expense of the experience component of tourism
“Right now in Thailand, I see a focus on the safety aspect with
brands communicating care and cleanliness at their priority,” he noted.
“What’s missing is the enjoyment and experience of the trip which will
urgently need to be worked on to be relevant in this competitive global